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MacVicar on the al-Zawahiri tape

CNN's Sheila MacVicar
CNN's Sheila MacVicar

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- U.S. officials said Wednesday they believe the person on an audiotape delivered to a London-based news agency Tuesday is Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, one of the FBI's "most wanted" terror suspects and Osama bin Laden's No. 2 man. CNN Senior International Correspondent Sheila MacVicar spoke to CNN's Leon Harris from London.

MACVICAR: This audiotape was delivered yesterday [Tuesday] to a news agency, APTN, which has made it available to news organizations around the world. ... The voice on this tape says -- and I'm going to quote here -- that "neither America nor its allies have been able to harm the leadership of al Qaeda and the Taliban, including Mullah Mohammed Omar and Sheikh Osama bin Laden. They are both in good health, along with all of the sincere mujahedeen, directing the battle against the American crusader assault on Afghanistan."

You may recall that in recent days we heard another audiotape from al Qaeda. [On] that audiotape [is a] voice [purported to be] Osama bin Laden. ... Now unlike this tape, [it] offered no clues as to when it might have been recorded. This one has some references to dates, including the first anniversary of the attack on Afghanistan, and refers to attacks that took place in May and April against German tourists in Tunisia and French engineers in Karachi.

There's also a reference to the growing conflict with Iraq, and it would strongly suggest that this tape at least has been made sometime in recent weeks perhaps, perhaps recent months, and it may be that intelligence analysts are able to glean more intelligence. No clue as to where the tape was made, but some hints as to when it might have been made.

And as you said, it does contain some new threats against the United States and its allies, saying that the United States will not go -- quote, unquote -- "unpunished for its crimes."

HARRIS: Sheila, let me ask you two questions real quickly. No. 1, what are authorities or the experts reading into the fact that the tape that is purported to have come from bin Laden is so vague in terms of timing and everything, and the al-Zawahiri tape is not, and the fact that this al-Zawahiri and alleged Osama bin Laden tape are coming out in audio form and not videotape?

MACVICAR: Well, the audio-video question is a really interesting one. It may suggest, for example, that they don't feel comfortable, that they are under pressure, that they're not comfortable talking to a video camera. It may be that in the case of Osama bin Laden, that, in fact, he may not be in a position to make a video recording. He may in fact be dead and they are using previously recorded tapes.

We know, of course, that al Qaeda had a huge library of tapes. Perhaps the Osama bin Laden tape comes from something that he previously recorded and that Ayman al-Zawahiri is also making use of audiotape.

But we've seen them use audiotape before. You remember the story of Ramzi Bin Al-Shibh. He gave a video interview to an Al-Jazeera correspondent. The Al-Jazeera correspondent ended up only with an audiotape. This may be a strategic or tactical decision on the part of al Qaeda, that it's simply safer. Perhaps they've altered their appearance, for example, and this is a way of protecting that.

On the issue of the timing, it is striking that the bin Laden tape contained no reference to recent contemporary events, where the al-Zawahiri tape, if indeed this is the voice of Ayman al-Zawahiri, clearly makes reference to things that have happened in recent months, clearly makes reference to things that can be dated, and at least we would know that on those dates, or up until that time, Ayman al-Zawahiri was indeed alive and in a position to make an audio recording. That could tell us something -- could tell intelligence something about al Qaeda's ability to communicate and perhaps plan.

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